Chapter Twelve
Word Count: 9,046

October 1863

Because of the injury to his shoulder, Rhett's trip was delayed a few days. Purposely avoiding Scarlett until he left, he remained at Belle's the entire time. Returning to his hotel late at night, if at all. He wanted to see her, but he wasn't ready to talk to her yet after what had happened. Still baffled at his behavior, he figured he'd take the time while he was away to evaluate the situation.

Why it should be so shocking that he acted respectably he wasn't sure, but it was even to him. He hadn't even talked to Belle about it. Once he felt certain the wound wasn't going to get infected, he booked passage on the next train towards Chattanooga, Belle's hometown being just south of the Tennessee/Georgia border.

Over a month passed before he returned to Atlanta. His arm was pretty well back to normal; having removed the stitches himself. It was early enough in the day that he could have called on Scarlett and in fact started in that direction after leaving the train depot changing his mind en route and headed instead to Belle's.

Belle was relieved when she saw Rhett walk through her doors. The past month had been almost unbearable for her. It was easier to deal with Palmer before when she didn't think there was hope, but Rhett had filled her with hope and he had never failed her before. She knew it was wrong to get her hopes up; this situation was far beyond Rhett's control but she couldn't help it.

He had told her he might be gone for a while, but when a week turned into two turned into three she couldn't help but worry. It was unfortunate that when Rhett chose to make his appearance, Palmer was there. She observed as Rhett ordered a drink, caught the attention of Lydia and accompanied her upstairs. What on earth was he doing? Her anger dissipated when Lydia appeared over an hour later with a note, written in her obviously feminine handwriting. "Miss Watling, this note was dropped off at the backdoor for you," Lydia said as she handed the letter to Belle and returned upstairs. Belle opened the letter and a smile crawled to her lips. She stood abruptly. "Palmer, I'm afraid I have to go out for a short while. A friend of mine has sent word that she's in town at the Atlanta Hotel and has asked me to call on her. I'll see you for dinner?" She kissed him, hoping he didn't get suspicious. She knew he was suspicious, Belle didn't have any friends, but when he didn't inquire as to the name of her friend she figured all was well.

Belle knocked on the door, surprised when a woman answered the door. She glanced at the door to make sure she had the correct number and then back at the woman. "I was told to meet someone here." The woman smiled. "Yes, of course, come in." She stepped aside allowing Belle to enter, closing the door behind her after taking a quick glance in the hallway. Rhett sat in the corner. Belle rushed up to him and hugged him, more to confirm he was really there then as a romantic gesture. "You had me worried, Rhett. Who's the girl?" She whispered.

Rhett laughed. "Actually, she's a friend, Belle. This room is registered under her name, so if he's followed you here he'll get her name if he knows what room you visited. Just being cautious, Belle, because despite what I found you're not going to get rid of him in a day."

He took Belle into the bedroom, leaving the girl in the other room. "Well, I found out plenty about your Palmer, Belle. He's a con artist and not a very good one from everything I found about him. He has nothing on you, at least nothing that I could find. I don't know that he even knows you, Belle, or that he saw the fire. From the people I spoke to, he doesn't hunt. One man I spoke to thought Palmer Taylor had died. Anyway, from everything I could determine there's no one he's left anything with."

He sighed, not wanting to tell her the rest. "But, Belle, that doesn't mean that he hasn't left papers with someone else in New York, Virginia, Pennsylvania. I have no idea where he's been or who he knows. I honestly can't even determine if he's really Palmer Taylor."

He walked to the window, remaining far enough back but looking outside. "I leave the decision up to you, Belle. I can help you get rid of him, but it's you who's taking the chance that he hasn't any proof. Think about it, and let me know. I'm remaining in Atlanta for maybe a week and then I'll be going to Charleston and London for some business as well as some personal business. So you have me for a week, but then you'll be without me for about two months."

Belle was in thought, hardly paying any attention to what Rhett was saying but when he mentioned personal business, her eyes shot up to meet his. "What kind of personal business, Rhett? Never in all of my life have I known you to refer to anything as being personal."

"I'm not quite sure to be honest, Belle. I just feel like going to London for a while. In case you haven't noticed, I've worked pretty hard the past few years. I have a few more shipments of cotton and other goods to get over to Europe and if I wait much longer I won't be able to get the product out of Charleston. I figured while I was there that I'd take some time and enjoy the city. Take in an opera maybe, do some shopping." He paused slightly, turning from the window to face her. "I realize you have a lot on your mind, but I could use your input on something."

She looked at him curiously. "Rhett, you can ask for my input anytime you need it. You have given me so much yet ask for so little in return. Sit down and talk to me. What's on your mind?"

He sat near her, running his fingers through his hair. He told her of the events that transpired with Scarlett, everything. "Belle, it's been close to fifteen years since I've behaved in such a manner. It's certainly not that I don't find her attractive, you know that probably better than I do. I wouldn't bother spending my time with her if I didn't. But, I simply don't understand it. And the oddest part was even though I know she's never kissed anyone like that before, I felt like it was me who had never been kissed that way. I would have been content just lying there on the floor with her all night doing nothing more than kissing." He stood again quickly. "What the hell is wrong with me? Am I developing a conscious? Morals? What?"

Belle looked at him in astonishment for a moment thinking he was joking. Surely, he had to be. But then she realized he wasn't. He wouldn't be so cruel as to play this type of joke on her, not at this time. "Well, Rhett, if you want my opinion it appears you didn't heed my warning. You've allowed yourself to like the girl." She looked away from him, knowing she couldn't look at him when she spoke what was on her mind. "It has nothing to do with your conscious or morals. You've allowed yourself to fall in love, Rhett."

Rhett's eyes shot to Belle's, of course he had thought of that but had dismissed it. Rhett Butler didn't fall in love, but everything he felt, everything he did, everything he thought pointed in that direction. That would explain why she was the first girl in years he had walked away from.

But why? Why now? Why her of all people?

There was really nothing special about her. Of course, he was lying when he thought that, everything was special about her. It was her face and eyes he saw before he fell asleep each night. Hell, it was her face and eyes he'd seen when he'd made love to other women over the years since he'd known her. What a fool he'd been not to see it, or perhaps he had seen it and just chose to ignore it. "What the hell do I do now, Belle?"

"Well, Rhett, I don't rightly know. I don't know the girl. But it sounds like you have some figuring out to do and, well, you'd better do it fast." She looked at him again. "Now, take this for what it's worth, Rhett. I hear things working where I work. I don't believe I'm giving you this kind of advice."

She rolled her eyes and stood, walking to him. She stood behind him, one hand holding his shoulder one hand holding his upper arm.

"Rhett, if you do love her, and I think I know you well enough to know you do. You need to think about whether you want to change your opinion about marriage. Lord knows I don't want you getting married least of all to her, but a girl like her isn't going to be available forever. I see her being escorted around town by men all the time, Rhett. Therefore, you need to think about whether or not you are willing to let her go. Because, Rhett, desire or no desire, she's not going to be your mistress and she's not going to wait for you to decide to stop being a gentleman towards her forever."

She squeezed his arm. "Besides, I don't think you have ever wanted her as your mistress, and I don't think you'd take her to bed without her being your wife. It's not in you to do it, if you care about her as much as I think you do anyway. Underneath it all, Rhett, regardless of what you say and do, have said and done, you are a gentleman. You've spent the last fifteen years trying to escape it, trying to escape your breeding, but you've finally come across something that for whatever reason reminds you of that upbringing and you want it. There's nothing wrong with that, Rhett."

She stood silently, resting her head against his back. She was losing him, if she hadn't thought it before she knew it now. While the words she said she could kick herself for saying, she spoke the truth. And someone had to tell him. More than anything, she wanted her friend to be happy and it was so obvious that he wanted to be with this girl.

Rhett turned and kissed her. "You're an amazing woman, Belle. I don't know many women in your situation who would encourage me to pursue someone else. I'm not blind, Belle, I know your feelings for me. I'm just sorry that I can't return those feelings, not in the way you'd like." He looked at her curiously. "So you know who she is?"

"Yes, Rhett, I've known for a while. I knew who she was the day I told you I thought that she was living with Miss Hamilton. I just wasn't sure of her name at the time. She's awful hard to miss, Rhett, I don't know that I've seen one girl warrant the attention of so many gentlemen at one time. Whatever it is she does, she obviously does it well if she got you caught in it too. You haven't been to see her yet, have you?"

She was shocked and she realized then that no matter what happened he would always be there for her. "Well, what in the hell are you doing standing here talking to me. Let me figure out my own problems, you go figure out yours. At least yours is a little happier subject than mine is."

She let Rhett kiss her again and watched as he left the room. She walked out to the other room, and the girl was still there. Belle was surprised. "You're welcome to stay here for the day if you need to, miss," she said to Belle. Belle had to admit that it sounded appealing to her, to stay holed up in this room to think. Realizing she couldn't, she thanked the girl and they walked out and downstairs together.

Rhett stopped in his room and changed into fresh clothes before going to Miss Hamilton's. He thought of bringing flowers or something, but not knowing where things stood he decided against it. Not to mention, he didn't want to give her any ideas. The last thing he needed was Scarlett thinking she knew anything he was feeling.

Dressed handsomely in a navy suit, tan vest, and a navy cravat with a simple gold stickpin and cufflinks completing his attire he made his way to Pitty's. He knocked on the door and was greeted by Peter, who led him into the parlor where Miss Hamilton, Mrs. Wilkes, Scarlett and a man Rhett recognized but couldn't recall his name were seated. Rhett noticed Scarlett's smile vanish quickly, replaced by a look of confusion and hurt in her eyes, only to be replaced by a smile once more. He bowed slightly, presenting Aunt Pitty with a trinket he had picked up in Chattanooga; it was a blown glass bell with some etching on it. As usual, she got flustered over Rhett's gifts and attentions, but this time there was something else in her mannerism that Rhett noticed. She was uncomfortable, more uncomfortable by his presence than usual.

Rhett sat in an empty chair; his hat placed on his knee and initiated a conversation with Melanie. It seemed that his letters had paid off and she had received word that Ashley would be coming home on leave at Christmas time. Apparently, he had sent letters; they had either been intercepted or lost. Rhett listened to her, noticing that the gentleman was engaging Scarlett in a conversation of his own. Shifting uncomfortably, his eyes meeting hers he smiled with a polite nod of his head as Melanie continued talking of the goings on in Atlanta in the month since Rhett had been gone.

After an hour, Rhett decided he had had enough. He had come to call on Scarlett, and as nice as Melanie was he couldn't stand to sit in the room any longer knowing that the gentleman sitting mere feet away from him was vying for Scarlett's affections. He had to laugh and admit to being somewhat relieved when he realized by Scarlett's remarks the man wasn't getting very far in obtaining those affections.

He stood and asked Melanie to walk out with him after saying good bye to Scarlett and Aunt Pitty and in so doing learned the gentleman's name was Cade Calvert. He asked Melanie for the tools needed to write a short letter, Melanie's face lit up in understanding and she brought Rhett into the study. He scribbled a note to Scarlett and handed it to Melanie. "Please see that she gets this after Mr. Calvert has left. If he stays for dinner just throw it away, there will be no sense giving it to her then."

Melanie smiled as she took the letter. It was so obvious to her that Captain Butler had feelings for Scarlett, and it had become more apparent to her after he brought Scarlett back from Tara a while ago that his feelings might be more than just a little reciprocated by Scarlett.

Scarlett would never say, of course, and Melanie would never ask. But she knew that Captain Butler had seemed to take it upon himself to be Scarlett's protector, and in a round about way hers and Aunt Pitty's as well. Melanie knew Scarlett bored easily, but never before had she seen Scarlett grow bored as easily as she had the past month with her various callers.

"I will, Captain Butler. Are you inviting her to dinner? Forgive my forwardness, but I can certainly arrange for Mr. Calvert to leave if that's the case. You've been so kind to us, to me, it's the least I could do." She blushed slightly. "Despite Scarlett's seeming inattentiveness, I know she'd want to join you. You have to understand, Captain Butler, Scarlett couldn't be rude to Mr. Calvert."

Rhett raised his eyebrows somewhat surprised at Melanie's statement. "That would be very kind of you, Mrs. Wilkes. Yes, I am going to be leaving again in a day or so and would like Scarlett to join me for dinner before I go." He kissed her hand politely. "Have a good afternoon."

He left with a slight bow; upset that he allowed himself to be affected by the fact Scarlett had a suitor. What did he expect, after all? He came in and out of her life over the past few years like the wind, sometimes staying for more than a day or two sometimes not. He had never been sincere with her; of course, he had never been sincere to himself either.

He returned to his room, remaining there for the rest of the afternoon. The note had asked her to meet him at six o'clock for dinner. At five, he changed into more suitable dinner attire; a charcoal gray double-breasted pin striped suit, a fresh white shirt, a black cravat with a black and white onyx tie tack and matching cufflinks, and made his way downstairs to the lobby. He procured himself a newspaper and a drink taking a seat in the lobby afterward to wait for Scarlett. When six o'clock had come and gone, he contented himself with the fact that she wasn't going to show and went to the dining room alone after waiting an additional fifteen minutes. The waiter had placed his salad before him when Scarlett appeared, Rhett's surprise evident by the fact he did not stand right away to pull her chair out for her.

Scarlett had been furious when Melanie had announced that the three of them needed to rest, saying they had plans for the evening. Scarlett knew they had no plans, but she wasn't about to argue with Melanie in front of Cade. She walked with Cade to the front door and watched as he left, returning to the parlor where Melanie handed her Rhett's note before Scarlett could ask any questions. Scarlett read the note.

"I don't know why you told Cade to leave, Melly. Who says I want to have dinner with Mr. Butler anyway? I really don't care if I never see him again." She blushed as she realized Melanie would not know why. "Well, the man didn't have the decency to come tell me he was all right and wasn't going to die from his wound. It was the least that he could have done don't you think? I was worried sick that I had done something wrong. He goes and leaves town without a word and returns expecting me to have dinner with him. I'd rather spend my time with Cade."

She lowered her eyes, unable to look into Melanie's. Of course that wasn't true, she couldn't think of anyone who was a better dinner companion than Rhett. Cade was nice and always polite, but he like all the beaux of late was rather narrow sighted in his conversational topics. Nothing but talk of war was on their minds.

She had wondered for the past month where Rhett was and whether he was going to call on her again. At first, she had even said no to dinner invitations. When she had heard he had left town without so much as a good bye she quickly stopped turning them down. She felt embarrassed and ashamed that his charm and kindness had taken her in.

For all she knew, he had planned that robbery himself to get her alone like that. She realized that made no sense, for if that were the case he wouldn't have pushed her away. She looked at the note once again. "It's been so long since I've had a truly good time. I suppose it wouldn't be all bad to have dinner with him. Help me find something that will make me look perfect." She and Melanie went upstairs with Prissy.

It had taken her much longer to choose her dress than she had thought and Prissy had taken forever getting her hair up the way Scarlett had wanted it. She wanted it all up with the exception of a few loose ringlets on either side. Peter took her to the Atlanta Hotel and after ensuring that Rhett was indeed waiting in the dining room took his leave. He wasn't pleased, Scarlett realized, but she knew that Rhett would bring her home.

Dressed in a square-necked gown with an attractive yet modestly low front and a small ruffle at the neckline Scarlett felt confident as she entered the room. The three-quarter length sleeves had burgundy satin lacing from the elbow to the ruffled cuff. The burgundy bodice began at the empire waistline with lacing up the center for decoration making a becoming contrast to the white. The waistline was a V and a tiered burgundy skirt with white islet at the bottom exposed by the scallops of the burgundy tiers completed the dress. A pair of pearl earbobs and a pearl necklace completed the outfit.

Scarlett dismissed the host knowing she was turning heads as she walked through the restaurant towards Rhett's table. She smiled at the waiter as he laid Rhett's salad on the table. "Starting without me? I always knew you were a cad, but I never dreamed you'd start dinner without me." She smiled at him, her eyes sparkling with mischief as she gently placed a bare hand on his shoulder. "You act as though you don't know who I am, Captain Butler. I realize it's been a while since you've seen me dressed for an evening out, but surely I don't look that different. Has my face gone green?"

Rhett smiled as he stood to help her into her chair. "Of course not, Miss O'Hara. I thought perhaps that Mr. Calvert was enjoying dinner with you this evening." He ordered some wine, and when the waiter came back with the wine, he ordered her meal. Rhett took her in. "You look very nice, my dear. Is that lilacs I smell? Surely it's not me you've pulled out all the stops for. I didn't think girls like yourself scheduled two dates in the same evening, so I guess I should be flattered." He lifted his glass to her with a slight smirk, unable to take his eyes off her and unable to hide the fact he was looking at her.

"Rhett, if you're going to be nasty I'll turn around and go home. I came here to have a good time, I assumed at any rate that's what you were offering me from your note's offer of dinner and dancing. If I'm wrong, let me know perhaps I can catch Cade before he's left for the County and I can have a good time." She narrowed her eyes slightly, though they still registered mischief rather than anger.

"Settle down, Scarlett. I have no intentions of turning you loose in search of the company of another man, at least not tonight and not dressed like that. So, pray tell, Miss O'Hara how is it I deserve such lavish garb? Are you trying to win my affections, or are you trying to throw in my face exactly what it is I walked away from?"

Scarlett didn't quite know how to respond. Why did she dress like this? Of course it was to look good, but she didn't know why exactly.

"No, Rhett, that's not my intention at all. It's not often I get to dine and dance somewhere as nice as this, so I thought I'd dress nice. You gave me this material, I thought you might like to see that I actually used it for something besides bandages. Besides, aren't you tired of seeing me in clothes I've worn to nurse in or worn the day before?" Then a thought occurred to her. "Don't you like it? Is there something wrong?" She didn't think that was the case, from the response she'd gotten from other men in the room.

"Of course I like it, Scarlett, you will make a most appealing distraction while we're eating. Have I ever made a comment about something you were wearing that wasn't complimentary in nature?" He pursed his lips, thinking. "Scarlett, you could put the Queen of England to shame if you wanted to, so please don't go trying to pull compliments out of me. I think Dr. Meade was shocked when I told him it was you who had tended to my shoulder, by the way." He took a sip of his wine. "You were upset with me." It was a question more than a statement. He didn't know if he wanted to hear her answer, but knew he had to.

"Yes, Rhett, I was furious. I couldn't believe you would just leave like that, I figured you'd at least have come talk to me afterward. I realized later that you were right, I wasn't thinking clearly. Then I felt foolish for having thrown myself at you. I thought that might be the reason you left without a word, but I realized that wasn't the case. I know you come and go all the time, but I just expected you would have said good-bye to me at least. At least to let me know you were okay."

"Yes, well, I should have. I apologize for that, but I quite honestly didn't know what to say." He paused as their food was brought to their table. "I've never quite encountered that situation, so I'm afraid it was a bit startling to me." They finished dinner, both seeming to have satisfied one another's curiosities as to whether they were upset.

When dinner was over, Rhett escorted her across the hall to the ballroom. "I will not settle for just one or two dances this evening, Scarlett. While I have no problem with you dancing with other men, I plan on claiming all the dances I can." He took hold of her elbow, stopping her before they entered. He was about to say something and thought better of it instead he brushed off a non-existent thread from her shoulder. His eyes met hers, and he smiled. "There, now I'd say you're perfect."

Scarlett blushed at his remark, feeling quite like a princess. And realizing that if he said she looked perfect, she must. Rhett wouldn't pay her such a compliment if it weren't true, even if it were only in his eyes. She was surprised he had mentioned wanting dances from her. Had he but asked for them, she realized she would have given them all to him. "Surely you exaggerate, Mr. Butler, but thank you for the compliment nonetheless."

Rhett brought her home around midnight, walking her to the door. "Would you care to sit with me a moment, Scarlett. I know it's late, but I'm going to be leaving again within the week for a couple of months and don't want you telling me that I didn't inform you of that fact the next time I see you. It's still pleasant outside, but if you're tired or cold I understand and I will make every effort to return before I leave."

"More blockade running, Rhett?" She looked at him curiously. She would never tell him that she found it rather thrilling what he did. She knew it was dangerous, but she also knew that with his blockade running came potentially more gifts for her. "I thought you didn't have to do that anymore."

"Well, I have commitments, Scarlett. Goods I have to get from here to Europe, and some things I need to tend to in London as well. I'd ask you if you want to come along, but I know you'd say no. It's a shame; you'd love London. And I'm sure London would never be the same after it had seen the likes of you." He smirked slightly, knowing he was being cruel. Even if she wanted to come she couldn't, but it didn't stop him from making the statement.

Scarlett eyes shot up to meet his gaze. Surely, he was joking, but as usual when she looked to him for the answers his eyes were dark and difficult to read. "I'm sure it's lovely, Rhett, but really speaking of such things isn't right. Accompanying you to Europe indeed. And just what would I have to do for you in return for my passage? For you know full well I have no money."

Rhett paused a moment, his eyes dropping from her eyes to her lips to her bosom and to her waist. Such a tiny waist he allowed himself to think. When his eyes returned to meet hers he had a slight smirk on his lips. "Well, my dear, I'm sure we could work something out in exchange. After all, it's a long voyage there and back and the nights seem longer and lonelier than the days sometimes. Not to mention the countless things there are to do in London. I'd expect you to be my companion, of course, and act the role appropriately. It's not Georgia, Scarlett, if you carried on in London the way you do at the balls here you'd get a reputation that I fear I could not defend you from. There would be theater, balls, fine dining, boating along the Thames, St. Paul's Cathedral, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, the Museum, and many other things. And enough shopping to keep even a young lady like you busy for weeks." He knew he was teasing her now, baiting her, and he felt a tad guilty for it but he enjoyed reminding her now and again exactly what it was he could offer her that the other gentlemen she saw couldn't. None of them could afford the passage for one person to London, let alone treat her to the extravagant things he spoke of.

Scarlett was in a far off place, dreaming of the things Rhett was speaking of. She could picture it, too. She could picture herself dancing with the English, dining at their best restaurants, attending operas. And she knew Rhett would take great cares in ensuring she was dressed extravagantly for every event. "It does sound divine, Mr. Butler, but I'm afraid I'd be missed both here and at the hospital." She tried to keep her voice cheerful, but she wasn't feeling so cheerful. He had mentioned her being his companion, making her realize he'd more than likely have another companion instead of her. Her smile faded, her eyes got a far away look in them.

"Come now, Scarlett, there's no need to get upset about it. It was a cruel joke to play on you, but I won't apologize for tempting you. Nor will I apologize for suggesting you come with me. I would have taken you with me had you said yes, and I wouldn't have cared why you agreed to come. Truthfully, when I travel I have little time for all of those things I named off, but I would have made the time for you." He stood upright. "I'll try and come by before I leave, Scarlett, but if I don't would you do me a favor."

She was startled by his tone. He sounded serious. She looked into his eyes and for once thought she could read them. He really cares for me, she thought. Whatever it is he's going to ask me to do, it's something he really wants me to do. "I suppose I can try, Rhett. What is it?" She stood, hating to feel at such a disadvantage when he stood over her when she was sitting.

"Don't do anything drastic while I'm away. I realize I have no right to ask." He placed his hand on top of hers, kissing her cheek politely. "Good night, Scarlett."

Sensing he had nothing else to say or nothing further that he wanted to say she returned the good bye. "Good night, Rhett."

She looked up at him curiously. Was that all he wanted to ask her to do?

Don't do anything drastic.

Whatever did that mean?

She watched as he left his tall figure and broad shoulders boarding his carriage so confidently and with such ease. She remained standing on the porch for a while longer, not wanting to go indoors yet. They had had a nice evening. She didn't know what she had expected, but it wasn't this. She figured he'd be nasty or make suggestions, but he had done nothing of the sort. The only difference from before was the fact he had requested more of her dances. That wasn't so difficult to provide him with. Otherwise, he behaved as he had every other time she'd seen him over the years. She went inside, not wanting the night to end.

The next afternoon Scarlett was sitting on the porch just before sunset when Rhett's coach pulled up in front of the house. She stared at it a moment, hadn't he mentioned he didn't use it anymore? She shrugged slightly thinking that perhaps she had misunderstood him. Her confusion increased when the driver approached her instead of Rhett. When he asked for Miss O'Hara, Scarlett had had enough of Rhett's games. She looked at him bewildered.

"I'm Scarlett O'Hara. Is Mr. Butler unable to get out of his coach for some reason?"

The driver looked at her and spoke simply. "Follow me, please, ma'am."

Scarlett followed the man, and when he opened the coach door she got in without looking. She found herself sitting across from Belle Watling. She tried to hide the surprise, but she knew it was more than obvious. "May I help you?" Scarlett narrowed her eyes slightly; unable to believe she was this close to a loose woman. Why, she's sort of pretty, Scarlett realized. If she just took all that makeup off and changed her hair color, she would look like anyone else. Scarlett felt herself shiver, suddenly feeling chilled but she didn't think it was from the air.

Belle was dressed somewhat conservatively compared to what she normally wore. She wasn't going to call on one of Atlanta's folk dressed as she did for work. She sat dressed in a respectably cut light blue, long sleeved silk dress with a rounded waist and watched Scarlett in silence, several minutes passing before she spoke. The long sleeves were necessary to hide the burns Palmer had inflicted on her the night before.

Scarlett would obviously have no idea of the feelings Belle had for Rhett, but Belle couldn't help but look at her and feel defeated. Even the fact that her clothes obviously weren't new couldn't detract from her. No wonder Rhett was taken with her.

"I'm sorry to drop by unannounced like this, Miss O'Hara, but I watched for Miss Hamilton and Mrs. Wilkes to leave so I was assured you were alone." She drew from her lap, presenting Scarlett with an envelope. "I was asked to get this to you, and while I imagine there were other ways for me to get it to you I have to admit to wanting to see for myself if you're as pretty as I've heard." She paused as Scarlett looked at the envelope. "I don't think there's anything too personal in it, he wrote it this morning before he left, but I assured him I would get it to you. Lord knows why, but he insisted and I can't say no to a friend."

Scarlett looked from Belle to the envelope, her name written on it in Rhett's flamboyant handwriting and back to Belle her statement hitting her. "He was with you this morning?"

He went from me to her? Oh, how could he? And to think I would have given myself to him.

She blushed at the thought, trying to hide her discomfort as she fiddled with the envelope.

Belle could almost read Scarlett's thoughts; she was more than likely thinking the same thing Belle thought about Scarlett but in reverse. The thought that she herself with one statement could destroy Rhett's relationship with this girl had its merit, but Belle realized she could not do that. She cared about Rhett too much, and if he were to ever find out she had done something that low he would never speak to her again.

He had maintained over the years he could deal with anything but liars. Belle held her head high, forgetting about the black eye she had received the night before. "He stopped to see me this morning, yes. He had some business to attend to late last night apparently, which resulted in his having to go out of town this morning. I fear I've stayed too long, Miss O'Hara. People around town know I use Mr. Butler's coach, so it's perhaps best if I go before people talk."

Scarlett nodded dumbly and got out of the coach. "Mrs. Watling?" She had no idea why she called her Misses, Scarlett had no way of knowing whether she was married but it seemed appropriate. "Is he in trouble? To leave so suddenly, I saw him last night and he made mention of being here all week." Scarlett noticed the bruise around Belle's eye, but knowing it was none of her business said nothing.

Belle noticed the concern in Scarlett's voice, and wondered if Scarlett herself realized that she was concerned for Rhett. "Well, Miss O'Hara, one of the reasons Mr. Butler and I have remained friends for as long as we have is that I stopped questioning him and his actions long ago. You just have to take Rhett for who he is. Good day, Miss O'Hara." Belle pulled the coach door closed.

Scarlett nodded, slightly confused at Belle's abrupt departure and sudden cool attitude toward Scarlett. She stood by the street for a moment after the coach had pulled away, returning to the porch, momentarily forgetting about the note she held in her hand.

Opening the envelope, she was disappointed to see it revealed little. He had to leave sooner than he had anticipated. He apologized and hoped that she would think about the favor he had asked her for.

He also mentioned there being six bolts of fabric at Mrs. Lowe's dressmaking shop that she had been instructed not to use for any other purpose until Scarlett had ordered whatever she needed to replenish what had been lost the day of the robbery. She set the note down, unable to believe even Rhett was so generous as to allow her to have made whatever she wanted. Why she could more than replenish what had been lost with six bolts of fabric.

Oh to have some new dresses again. She realized Mrs. Lowe was probably thrilled to get the business and made it a point to go there the following day to be fitted and order the dresses. They would be done in plenty of time before Rhett returned, and no matter how tempting she wouldn't wear them until he was back. If he was paying for them, he certainly deserved to see them first.

Rhett sat on the train taking him to Albany and Charleston replaying the prior night's events. He had gone to Belle's for some cards when Lydia came to him and told him Belle needed to see him right away. When he got upstairs and heard Belle's screams coming from her room, Lydia didn't need to say anything more. When he had kicked in Belle's door, he found Palmer burning Belle with a cigar. Rhett couldn't recall ever seeing Belle look as frightened as she had at that moment. He managed to get Palmer off of her and the cigar out of his hand while Lydia got Belle out of the room.

He watched the passing scenery, realizing that Belle would do everything she could to keep his name out of things. It was Belle who suggested he get out of town. No one but she and Scarlett could really confirm he had been in town and she doubted Scarlett would be questioned about Rhett's whereabouts.

He knew she had been annoyed when he wrote the letter to Scarlett, but he also knew he had to. If he left once again without at least letting her know he would return to find her returning the attentions of someone like Cade Calvert. It was a new feeling to Rhett, actually feeling as though he was responsible for his actions to someone. Something he never thought he'd enjoy feeling.

He booked the first passage available getting him to London from Charleston and arrived in London about three weeks later. He conducted his personal business first; stopping on his first day in London at a jeweler's to have a ring made for Scarlett. The jeweler commended Rhett on his taste; a square emerald surrounded by diamonds. It was simple yet would certainly be pleasing to the woman receiving it. Rhett hoped the jeweler spoke the truth, it was one thing to buy gifts for a woman, but this was one ring he realized could very well change his life. He wasn't even sure if he was going to propose to Scarlett, though Belle's words rang true. Scarlett wasn't going to wait her whole life for him. What had he offered her after all? She had no reason to suspect he wanted anything from her, so why should she wait.

He finished his business in London, enjoying the knowledge he had made money off the war even when he hadn't done anything. Having four boats in his fleet enabled him to take care of other things while others tended to the blockade running; he was down to three now with one having been captured.

He returned to the States spending some time in Charleston with his mother and sister before returning to Atlanta. He didn't know why he bothered spending time with Rosemary, her situation was miserable and he hated seeing her knowing that she could have done so much better. How their father ever allowed the courtship and marriage of Rosemary and her husband Rhett would never know. He imagined that by the time Rosemary was old enough, their father was just happy to be rid of her. Their father didn't know what to do with Rhett and Ross, Rhett imagined he knew even less of what to do with Rosemary.

It was mid-February 1864 when Rhett returned to Atlanta. For the first time in the almost three years he had known her seeing Scarlett was the first thing he planned on doing. He stopped at the hotel first, changing into something more appropriate to call on her in. Dressed in a pair of gray trousers, a black jacket, a fresh white shirt, a scarlet cravat with a plain gold stickpin, his gold cuff links and his pocket watch as his accessories.

He tethered Apollo when he arrived at Miss Hamilton's home and approached the door. Peter let him in and led him to the parlor telling Rhett he would fetch Scarlett from upstairs. Rhett felt his jacket pocket for the box that contained the ring, knowing that if he were to indeed ask for her hand it would not be today but just wanting to make sure it was there. He stared at the owl lamp that sat on Pitty's end table as he waited for Scarlett to come downstairs. Assuming she had been resting, he knew it could be a while so he eventually sat.

Scarlett drove Prissy mad trying to get ready as quickly as she could. She chose the dark yellow damask frock that Mrs. Lowe had made for her. The neckline was low, but not too low. The sleeves were off the shoulder and fastened with green bows at the shoulders and three bows placed along the front of the skirt starting at the V waist. It was simple, yet elegant and Mrs. Lowe had told her the color was very flattering on her. She descended the stairs making her way to the parlor a slight smile crawling to her lips when she saw how bored Rhett looked. "Do you have better places to be, Mr. Butler? You should know better than to call on a lady unannounced in the middle of the afternoon."

Rhett stood upon her entrance taking her in. "You do look lovely this afternoon. This is twice now it would seem you've dressed to please me. If you're not careful I might start to think you're sweet on me." He walked towards her dropping his hands into hers. "Let me see you, Scarlett. What a relief it is to see you looking nice. None of the girls in Charleston could hold a candle to you." He spun her around. "Is that one of the dresses Mrs. Lowe made for you?"

"Yes, Rhett, it was very generous of you to do that for me. You didn't need to; it certainly wasn't your fault that my belongings were stolen. But I have to admit it was nice to have new clothes to wear when the other girls have none." She blushed slightly realizing what she had said, but then suddenly felt foolish. She had no reason to be embarrassed in front of Rhett. She could say whatever she wanted to in front of him, and he would never think less of her. He would, however, think less of her for not speaking her mind.

Scarlett wondered if Rhett knew of Ashley's visit at Christmas time. How he would know she had no idea, but Rhett knew things that he had no right knowing. She had been disappointed after his visit. She had no time alone with him between Melanie, Pitty and India all vying for his attention. She had been pleased to have new dresses to wear, her thoughts of Rhett being the first to see them put out of her mind when Ashley came home. Her last words to Ashley were spoken in anger and she regretted that for weeks afterward.

He had told her not to associate with Rhett anymore. She had plainly pointed out that he had given up all rights in telling her how to lead her life when he had married Melanie instead of her. He hadn't been happy with her response, nor had he been happy to learn she had no intentions on discontinuing her visits with Rhett. She regretted her words later, but he was gone and it was too late. He never wrote to her, his letters were always to Melanie and she could never write him.

"Well, I can imagine what their reaction will be to what I brought you this trip." He smirked slightly as he noticed Scarlett's frown. "I neglected to bring it with me, I'm sorry my dear. I wasn't even sure if you were still in town. I'll try and remember it next time. I'll be in town for a couple of weeks this trip at least."

"You're such a tease, Rhett. Is it more clothes?" She thought over things that she needed. New shoes would be wonderful, but somehow she doubted even Rhett would buy her shoes. She pouted realizing he wasn't going to tell her. "Where did you go this trip, Rhett? Any more pirate stories to relay? I'm sure Carreen and Suellen would love to hear them." She laughed lightly.

"No pirate stories to tell, I spent my time in Charleston and London. You got my note? I apologize for the abruptness of my departure, but something came up that I had to tend to."

Scarlett looked at him curiously. He was apologizing to her; she couldn't recall him ever apologizing for his actions before. "It's all right, Rhett, though I don't think that Mrs. Watling likes me very well." She looked at Rhett briefly. "In fact, I think she took great enjoyment out of the fact that it was her home you had gone to the morning you left not mine."

Rhett paused slightly before answering, uncomfortable talking about Belle with Scarlett. He knew she could never possibly understand or approve of the relationship he had with Belle. "I'm sure that's not the case, Scarlett. Truth be told, the only reason I went to her house at all was I needed more money than I had on me. Hers being the business it is, I knew she'd have it. Otherwise, she wouldn't have seen me at all. She wasn't very pleased I asked her to give you the letter either, so I'm sure the feeling is mutual." He stood. "I really just came to ask you to dinner sometime this week. Perhaps Saturday if you're free."

"Yes, Saturday would be lovely. This is all the longer you're going to stay, Rhett? Don't tell me I got dressed for you to stay for an hour." She stared at him in disbelief. He was baffling. Just when she thought she'd figured him out, he did something that made her question her thoughts.

"I can stay longer if you'd like, Scarlett. I don't want to impose and I know that it's approaching dinnertime. Are you inviting me to stay for dinner, Scarlett?" He raised his eyebrows slightly, amused that she perhaps was doing just that.

"If you'd like to stay, of course you're welcome to Rhett. I'm afraid our dinner table might be rather bare compared to what you're used to, but you're of course welcome. I'm sure Melanie would love to see you, and Pitty too if you have some more of those truffles to give her that is."

Rhett laughed heartily. "I'm afraid I left the gifts for Miss Hamilton behind as well. I'll be sure and remember hers tomorrow. Yours I know I can forget for a day or two and not have it held against me, but truth be told Scarlett I think Aunt Pitty has grown rather fond of me. Perhaps I should make my intentions toward her known. With whom would I speak? Peter?"

Scarlett could hardly contain her laughter. "Yes, I believe Peter would be the one, or perhaps Uncle Henry. I'm not rightly sure, Rhett. Is that why you've been coming here all along, to call on Pitty? And here I thought it was me."

She feigned disappointment biting her lower lip gently, unable to hold back her laughter any longer. She giggled so hard she felt like a little girl again. At first, she was embarrassed, but it felt so good that her embarrassment quickly diminished. She hadn't laughed so hard in so long, there had been little to laugh about. When she saw Rhett stand, she couldn't hide the disappointed look on her face. "You're really leaving? I thought you were joking."

"No, Scarlett, I'm not joking. Believe it or not, I made it a point to visit you first upon my arrival but I don't want to overstay my welcome. Nor do I want to put you out in the way of dinner. I know things aren't plentiful anymore. Walk with me to the porch, won't you?" He offered her his hand, which she took and walked with him. "So that's a yes to dinner Saturday night?"

"Yes, do I get dancing out of the evening, too?" She looked up at him genuinely interested in his response. It had been a while since she'd been dancing. She would never tell Rhett that of course, but she realized that if he wanted to he'd find out anyway.

"You mean you weren't aware of the ball on Saturday night, Scarlett? I just arrived in town and know about it. I'm surprised you don't already have your dance card full." He smirked slightly realizing that the beaux Scarlett had been spending her time with of late probably didn't have the money to attend the ball.

Scarlett tried to hide her surprise that Rhett not only knew about the ball but also had obtained tickets. Was there no end to what he could accomplish? "Of course I was aware of it, Rhett, I didn't realize you were though. And I would love to go with you. I don't have anything red to wear, I'm afraid. Isn't that what you're supposed to wear on Valentine's Day?" She pouted slightly realizing that she wouldn't fit in.

"Already taken care of, my dear. Mrs. Lowe kindly had a dress made for you at my request from the measurements she had on hand. The dress will be delivered to you on Saturday morning, before then she is under specific instructions not to reveal it to you. So don't even bother going in there to inquire about it. But in celebration of the day of love and romance, red it is."

"Rhett, you didn't? Another dress? You know Pa's going to start inquiring as to your intentions if you continue to spend such lavish amounts of money on me."

"Yes, I'm sure your father would be something to be reckoned with. Never fear, Scarlett, I can hold my own with father's, even if I can't talk to my own." A look of amusement crawled to his eyes as he watched Scarlett. "With that, Miss O'Hara, I'm going to bid you good night. I'm afraid a night of poker is calling me. If you want me to pay for that dress I've ordered for you on Saturday night, you better hope I have a good night." He winked, kissing her hand. "I'll see you on Saturday, around four o'clock for dinner beforehand." He bowed slightly, replacing his hat on his head and descended the porch steps. He watched as Scarlett entered the house from the street as he unsecured Apollo and made his way to Belle's, ironically to meet Gerald O'Hara for drinks.

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